Compulsory Heterosexuality in Biblical Narratives and their Interpretations: Reading Homophobia and Rape in Sodom and Gibeah


  • Michael Carden


Christianity has made the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 a locus of homophobia. This is most dramatically evidenced in the words 'sodomy' and 'sodomite' being applied to male/male homoeroticism. However, rabbinic Judaism has read Sodom and Gomorrah as a locus of cruelty, inhospitality and xenophobia. While critical scholarship has moved from traditional Christian understandings, discussion of Genesis 19 (and its parallel, Judges 19) is still couched in such terms as 'homosexual rape' and 'homosexuality'. The paper argues that readings of Genesis 19 and Judges 19 that highlight homosexuality as an interpretive device ignore the different historical and cultural context behind these texts and the contemporary politics in which these texts are enmeshed. Such readings overlook issues of patriarchy, compulsory heterosexuality and homosexual panic. The paper draws on anthropological literature concerning Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures to argue that male rape in Genesis 19 and Judges 19 is an act of homophobic violence signifying the abuse of outsiders and the breach of the community of Israel. Male rape serves to reinforce the heterosexuality of the insiders by inscribing outsiders as queer and queers as outsiders. The paper closes by exploring some implications of this argument in light of issues of racism and xenophobia arising from Pauline Hansen's One Nation and the Wik High Court decision, and of the problem of homophobia, especially in our schools as exampled by the recent Christopher Tsakalos case in New South Wales.